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Dokken: Personal stories shed light on the power of fishing and time on the water

Two weeks before he died, Scott Olson’s hospice nurse asked him if there was anything he wanted to do before his final days. His wish was to go fishing.

Mary and Scott Olson.jpeg
Scott Olson and his wife, Mary, enjoying one of his last days in the summer of 2021 during a day of fishing on Roosevelt Lake in Arizona.
Contributed/Jann Olson
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – Today’s column is about the power of fishing – and the difference it can make in people’s lives.

I was reminded of that impact on a couple of different occasions this week, first by Jann Larson of Reynolds, N.D., and then from a Facebook post by Manitoba fishing guide Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats Outfitter.

Larson reached out after seeing my recent column about a fishing trip to Lake Winnipeg with a Canadian friend who had just completed several weeks of chemotherapy as treatment for multiple myeloma.

The day wasn’t without its challenges, but we caught some of Lake Winnipeg’s famous “greenback” walleyes, and the emotional boost our Canadian friend got from that time on the water was palpable.

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As outdoors activities go, this would be his last kick at the can for the foreseeable future. Chemotherapy was complete, but a stem cell transplant – an equally arduous step on his journey to recovery – awaited.

The next leg on his journey to recovery involves a stem cell transplant that will include several weeks in isolation to rebuild his depleted immune system.

“Thank you for the recharge,” he said after the trip. “I can see the end now.”

The column prompted Larson to share the story of her brother, Scott Olson of Pine City, Minnesota, who died from lung cancer in August 2021 at age 72.

While in his 60s, Larson writes, her brother fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning a year-round lake home.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer in 2020, Scott and his wife, Mary, moved to Arizona.

“He just couldn’t get warm enough, and the heat there made his last year more tolerable,” Larson said.

Two weeks before he died, Scott’s hospice nurse asked him if there was anything he wanted to do before his final days.

His wish, Larson says, was to go fishing, and so the nurse arranged a fishing trip on Arizona’s Roosevelt Lake with bass fishing guide Clint Hamblin of Lone Rock Outfitters.

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“It was the best medicine,” Larson said of her brother’s final fishing trip. “Being on the water with the wind on his face made him smile like no other time in his life. While not a single Minnesota walleye was caught, the couple of fish he did catch were a thrill. I am so grateful for that nurse and that he had that day.”

The memory of that day on the water provides a lasting comfort for Scott’s family and friends, I’m sure.

“Keep writing about the therapy the outdoors brings,” Larson wrote in conclusion. “There is no greater truth.”

Pearase, the Manitoba fishing guide, meanwhile, posted a story on Facebook of a recent trip to Lake Winnipeg after a guest who had to cancel a walleye trip earlier this year asked that the trip be donated, instead, to someone in need.

In response, Pearase writes, he held a contest inviting people to submit stories explaining why they should be chosen for the guided fishing trip.

Pearase ultimately chose Blair Anderson, a man who was battling cancer. Originally, Blair was going to bring his wife and one of his sons along for the day, but for safety reasons, two paramedics accompanied the man in the boat that day, instead.

The trip was originally scheduled for a Wednesday, Pearase writes, but wind in the forecast prompted him to move the trip up by a day.

They had a great day on the water, catching “a bunch of fish,” Pearase writes, “and Blair even sealed the deal on the biggest walleye of the day.”

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Blair died the next day – the day the trip originally was scheduled to happen.

In response, Cassy Keilbar, the woman who donated the trip, reached out to say she would like to sponsor one trip a year for someone in need to fish with Blackwater Cats. The trip, Pearase says, will be known as the Blair Anderson Memorial.

Needless to say, the response to the donation and Blair’s final fishing trip has been overwhelming, Pearase writes.

“This world can be an ugly place, but generosity like this shows us the love and generosity of the human spirit and there are still lots of good people out there who are willing and able to do good things in this world,” Pearase wrote in conclusion.

Amen.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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